Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
July 2012 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: history revisited with a mad marching band from your happiest nightmares, the warm musical breeze by a senior statesman from Ghana, and new prog-rock from old sources.



Safety Fifth
Mucca Pazza

We say: Warning: marching band, Spike Jones, and tango orchestra in multiple pile-up. No one hurt.

What with the funky lineage out of New Orleans, the woozy sound of the late Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and the likes of the free-wheeling Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the ground has been well prepared for this big band (like HBE, from Chicago). These heretics throw funk, rock, avant-garde jazz, imagined movie themes, a smattering of world music (tango in the house!) and a dozen different instruments into the blender to produce genre-defying good time music which will redefine career possibilities for any kid in a high school marching band.

Whimsical but quirky, energetic and often mad, Mucca Pazza also have a sensitive side (the stately sound of "Last Days" set in a 19th century parlor in Buenos Aires), although they seem happier to drag you off to a guitar-twanging spaghetti-western bullfight with mariachi trumpets ("Sexy Bull"). And "Hang 'Em Where I Can See 'Em" sounds like an offcut from a moody scene in "Citizen Kane" while "Coolashell" is a drum-driven digression paving the way for the self explanatory "Maui Waui 5-0".

Fun for all the family and a mash-up of hyphenated styles to take you away from these troubled times. World music for this increasingly strange planet.






Highlife Roots Revival
Koo Nimo

We say: Old school palm wine music for a new audience, with roosters.

Recorded in the yard of this septuagenarian's home in Ghana (hence the occasional background noise of animals and kids), these emotionally direct songs — where his voice and guitar remain central despite percussion and vocal assistance — may speak across the generations for their elemental nature, but Nimo is no untutored talent. An educated man who studied science in London in the 60s, he also immersed himself in the Western classical tradition and is a fan of Thelonious Monk's complex jazz compositions and flamenco, the latter two evident in his deft guitar work. He is, however, part of the continuum from the palm wine days of the 40s and 50s and these narrative songs have an engrossing quality — although most listeners will not being able to understand a word, of course. (Like, you did with Buena Vista Social Club?)

Despite first impressions of simplicity, there is a sophistication to the rhythms, an interweave of acoustic guitar, Nimo's conversational singing style, the tick-tock percussion and the background vocals. Rootsy, but also a genuine tapestry of sound which is easy and affecting — and further evidence that age shall not weary some.






Choban Elektrik
Choban Elektrik

We say: Prog-rock out of Brooklyn with searing violin and an Albanian twist.

Throw this one at your prog-rock or archival-inclined friends still living in the past, tell them it's an obscure release from Macedonia in the 70s. They'll be persuaded on the evidence of boiling electric piano, keening violin and the masterful amalgam of Balkan folk and jazz fusion. It's as if the guys from the folk club in Sofia heard Jean Luc Ponty electric violin albums or Miles Davis funk and got up a head of inventive steam.

In fact, some of this Brooklyn outfit have arrived here via time in a Frank Zappa tribute band, and were previously known as Electric Balkan Junkyard and Electric Balkan Garage. So this is world music by a different and more edgy route, and if your definition of the genre begins and ends with the word "authentic" then you needn't stop here. But the vigorous playing, rock crunch and exotically sinuous melodies they appropriate from the region makes for diverting play-loud post-Zappa rock, and one which will certainly fool friends looking for those lost 70s classics.






Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His new collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.

Also in this Issue

Safety Fifth

Buy Safety Fifth online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Safety Fifth



Highlife Roots Revival

Buy Highlife Roots Revival online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





Choban Elektrik

Buy Choban Elektrik online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Choban Elektrik